Late last week, Warner Bros. announced more cast members for 2016’s “Batman/Superman” film, and as a result, the Internet quickly broke in half once again. First, Ben Affleck’s casting as the Caped Crusader made waves, then Gal Gadot being named as the studio’s Wonder Woman ignited a firestorm of controversy that continues to burn. Now, it’s the casting of Lex Luthor that has shattered the sanctity of talkbacks and message boards everywhere. Forget Otisburg — it’s time for fans to pack for their trip to Eisenberg when the star of “Social Network” and “Zombieland” will take up the role of Superman’s greatest foe.
Jesse Eisenberg will bring the third film version of Lex Luthor to life, and the choice, as you might already be aware, was met with a mixture of incredulity and controversy — and no small amount of fan outrage. As of this writing, CBR’s own poll has less than 20 percent of you welcoming the casting choice, with the remainder split evenly between taking a “wait and see” approach and outright hating the announcement. But things aren’t nearly as bleak as you may have initially thought, and today CBR spells out a bunch of reasons why Jesse Eisenberg will be worthy to step into the shoes previously filled by Gene Hackman and Kevin Spacey.
This Will Be A Younger, Fresher Luthor…
One of the most common cries heard amongst the backlash against Eisenberg playing Luthor (other than, “He’s not Bryan Cranston!”) is that he’s just too darn young. However, despite his youthful appearance, Eisenberg is 30 years of age. Yes, Henry Cavill is also 30, and traditionally, Luthor has been a few years older than Clark Kent. But though Eisenberg has a very young face, he is an adult man in the prime of his life, and should have no problem convincing audiences he’s a successful businessman/scientist/supervillain. While Eisenberg may have a young face, he is an adult man in the prime of his life, just like Luthor should be. Although “Man of Steel” never alluded to Luthor being a part of Clark’s past, Superman and Luthor being the same age could allow Zack Snyder and company to reveal that the two were once friends, evoking some of the better aspects of Michael Rosenbaum Luthor/Tom Welling Clark relationship from “Smallville.”
Affleck’s older Batman notwithstanding, Warner Bros.’ new superhero-fueled films are designed to focus on a rebirth of the icons of the DCU. This is not a universe of middle-aged men who have been fighting for decades; this is the story of the beginnings of the DC Cinematic Universe, a time when all these characters and elements are converging for the first time. A young-looking Luthor will allow the part to grow as the movies develop. This is not a one-and-done movie; this is the beginning of a shared cinematic universe intended to turn out blockbusters for many summers to come. Warner Bros. is playing the long game with Eisenberg, an actor who, despite his youthful appearance, is an adult who has the acting chops to pull off a ruthless sociopath like Luthor. A shaved head and a tense expression can add years to a young face. Casting an actor in his early 20s might have been a cause for concern, but casting an actor the same age as the actor portraying Superman? There’s nothing wrong with that.
…Which Means, He Will be A Different Type of Luthor
One thing that has become apparent when reading reactions to this casting is that fans seem to want the same Luthor they’ve watched in previous films or on television, a Gene Hackman-like performance of equal parts comedy and brutality. However, “Superman Returns” failed in part because it gave fans what they thought they wanted, mimicking the Christopher Reeve films and coming off as a soulless echo of past glories rather than existing in its own space. As wonderful as Hackman’s Lex was, as cool as Spacey’s hardened Luthor came across, it’s time for something new.
The former Luthors were portrayed as wise and seasoned, as experienced phonies who were part mad scientist and part conman in the vein of Mark Twain’s Duke and King. Today’s world, however, needs a more complex Luthor, a man in his prime who has had his empire usurped by an alien. A man who represents the corrupt modern world and everything Superman stands against. Jesse Eisenberg has portrayed a wide array of characters, and judging by his resume, we can expect he’ll bring something nuanced and different to this role. Whether the character works or not is ultimately up to Snyder and screenwriter David Goyer, but the fact that they cast an actor who is such a departure from the Lex fans are comfortable with indicates that this will be a very different villain, which can be a good thing. After all, Heath Ledger’s Joker was very, very different from Jack Nicholson’s, and we all know how that turned out.
Eisenberg’s Kind of Done it Before
Looking back at Eisenberg portraying Mark Zuckerberg in “Social Network,” it’s not a stretch to imagine it as a precursor to his eventual casting as Lex Luthor, the greatest criminal mind of the modern age. This is not to say that Zuckerberg is a criminal sociopath (although that predictive advertising on Facebook is kinda eerie), but the same narcissism and self-importance Eisenberg absolutely nailed in his portrayal of the social media maven just screams Lex Luthor. Snyder’s Luthor will obviously be a very cerebral villain, possibly moreso than he has been in the past — after all, this Luthor will have to match wits with Batman as well as Superman. The smugness and arrogance that Eisenberg absolutely nailed in “Social Network” should inform his interpretation of Luthor. Imagine Bruce Wayne across the bargaining table with Zuckerberg and you can get an idea of the potential for Eisenberg’s Lex.
Eisenberg also has an everyman quality, one that we saw in the pre-Facebook era of Zuckerberg’s life in “Social Network.” The new Lex should represent the worst of modern humanity, and should be relatable and grounded rather than over the top like Hackman, or virtually superhuman like the Lex from the comics. It would add a layer of threatening malice the character has yet to achieve on screen. This Lex needs to be a man fueled by ego and power, enough so that he would deign to combat a god. After watching “Social Network,” it’s not difficult to believe Eisenberg can pull that off.
This Luthor Will Cut the Melodrama with Genuine Humor
Whether it was the camp of Hackman or the subtle, arrogant twang of disgust so prevalent in Clancy Brown’s voice performance in “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League,” Luthor has always had a biting and caustic wit, something Eisenberg has proven he is more than a little bit adept at. Many modern actors who have portrayed comic characters have had comedic chops — just look at Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as Tony Stark! “Man of Steel” was in desperate need of some laughs, and Eisenberg can provide the comedic presence necessary to keep the next DC film from being so bleak and dire.
This is not to say that Eisenberg should be doing camp. Luthor’s innate cowardice has an element of humor embedded in the character, and as such, an actor that can pull of a little bit of self-deprecation is perfect for the part. Luthor is a man who could make someone smile seconds before he orders his execution, a character type Eisenberg should be able to nail.
Look To And Learn From Past Casting Controversies
Heath Ledger was too young and pretty to portray the Clown Prince of Crime, they said. “‘Mr. Mom’ as Batman?” they cried when Michael Keaton was announced as the Dark Knight. Fan rage has a tendency to become fan love when the filmmakers, screenwriters, and production designers all do their job. A performance cannot and should not ever be judged before the final product ends up in theaters. If Warner Bros. prepares a linear, emotional, thoughtful script, Eisenberg stands a great shot of becoming as beloved as Keaton or Ledger; if the script and pacing of the film is off, Lex will likely fall flat.
Luckily, Eisenberg provides Snyder and Goyer a very different and unique sort of clay with which to craft a masterpiece. If they do their job, all this fan rage should be extinguished. Many actors that seemed wrong for a comic book role have proven to be pitch perfect, and sometimes, it’s the left of center casting choices that end up becoming the most iconic. We’ve got a long way to go before Eisenberg gets to show fans what special brand of evil he has up his sleeve for Lex, but if history is any indicator, it may just surprise everyone.